I've had a lot on my mind lately. I have been diving into the deep end of anti-racism work. Soaking up as much as I can, learning from many incredible sources, and sitting in the discomfort of it all. I have been seeing where my whiteness, my white fragility, my white saviourism, and yes, my white privilege shows up. I am finally starting to put the pieces of my personal puzzle together, at least enough to roughly define where my lane is, and enough to take the leap and share my commitments with you.
This post is where my 2 worlds collide. That is, the worlds of me as a person who loves to learn and evolve, and me as a business owner who puts a certain 'face' forward. I can no longer make my business strictly about fashion, clothing and style, it is so much more than that.
I have to acknowledge the fear inside that normally has me stop. It is this fear that I am pushing through anyways, because I have learned there is no other way. The fear of the unknown, the fear of making a mistake and fear of not being enough. I am sick of allowing fear to run the show, and if this post reads like a big pile of puke to some of you, consider it my cleansing ritual.
I've never been one to 'follow the norm' or jump on the trend band wagon, which may be why my business has not taken off the way that I know it could. I've received tonnes of (mostly unsolicited) advice from well meaning people over the past couple years, and most of it fails to resonate with me. I most certainly have not been able to action most of it. I am starting to see underneath the veneer, starting to understand where this discomfort comes from. The anti-racism work I have started doing has laid such an important and crucial foundation for my business, and I believe it is a crucial part of our humanity that is missing. Since this work will forever change the course of Fashion Your Life and my part in it, I have no other option but to share it with you. I can only speak of my own experiences, and I kindly ask that you hear me out.
I recognize that I am likely to lose some of you, and I hope that those who value my views will stick around as we find others like us to join forces with. I most certainly can not continue this journey alone, nor would I want to, although at times I'll want to and think that I can.
Let me start by simply saying 'We need to do better'.
My internal enquiry began many months ago, partly from conversations one white male friend of mine was courageous enough to have with me. My curiosity was cultivated in a facebook community I am a part of and it catapulted last month with Layla Saad's 28 day instagram challenge #MeAndWhiteSupremacy. While the name was a bit 'hey what now?', when I saw the challenge there was no question this is something I had to do, and when I commit there is no turning back. In addition to the challenge, my learnings and therefor this post, has been informed by the list of resources you will find at the bottom.
THINGS I HAVE LEARNED
I've learned many things over the past several weeks, and in the weeks since the challenge have ended, I have slowly been integrating them into my everyday practices. Since it is such a big conversation and there is so much to consider with many differing view points at any given moment, incorporating the work into everyday living gets messy from time to time. I've learned to forgive myself, apologize when I have hurt someone unintentionally and vow to do better. I've also learned to not give up, on myself and others, while at the same time knowing what 'battles' to take on and when to stop for my own sanity. Anti-racism work is a life long journey of learning, one that forces us (white people) outside of our comfort zone. It is now a non-negotiable for me.
I am now seeing the part I have been playing in the system of white supremacy, one of complacency. Without knowing it at the time, I grew up with a 'white is right' mentality, or learning 'white is better' bullshit. White Supremacy is everywhere, it is in me, which is why I do the work.
Since starting this work, I've asked myself several questions, with the questions themselves having evolved. One question that has come up is 'Why am I racist?', my answer sitting somewhere with my ancestors, how I have benefitted from their horrific actions and how I carry their beliefs and behaviours within my DNA. Upon further reflection, I believe the more accurate question is 'Why do I choose to uphold a system that has been built on racism?'
...enter systemic racism.
To be white in today's world and NOT be doing anti-racism work is to uphold the system of white supremacy, whether you are aware of it or not. In fact, your whiteness is the very thing that has you able to be unaware of it. If you are white (or white passing) you are a part of the system, whether you like it, believe it, or not. We benefit from the (white supremacist) system based on how it was built hundreds of years ago. Don't believe me, take a look around you, pay attention to the news, start your own internal (and external) enquiry. Provided you maintain an open mind, I am confident you will see it for yourself all in due time. It doesn't take much to stop and listen to someone with a different skin color talk about their experiences in today's world, and it can be very eye opening. There are many very well spoken BIPOC on social media doing anti-racism work, sharing their stories, to help you open your eyes to the realities in the world outside of that with a white lens.
As a white skinned person I benefit from this system without even trying. Heck, if you are still reading this it's most likely because I am white, making me more palatable. I'll be honest, it's part of the reason I am writing and sharing this, as a cog in the much bigger wheel. I am no anti-racist expert, I simply feel compelled to share my experience with you so you can understand the value in doing the work yourself. We have chosen to uphold this system because of our ignorance and our inactions have us continue to uphold the system. Writing about my experience and sharing some of the anti-racism resources I have found so far is one of the many ways I can be in action.
TO DO THE WORK
For me, perhaps most importantly, doing anti-racism work is bridging the divide within myself. It means not knowing a lot of things, being open to new perspectives and ideas, taking personal responsibility, and showing up everyday in conversations and relationships. Whether I speak up every time or not, I see the injustices all around me, and the work I need to keep doing becomes even more evident. I have learned that doing the work requires being brave in the face of potential danger. It is also a bit lonely at times, and it's ok to feel lonely sometimes.
In doing your own anti-racism work, you will experience 'all the feels', and by all I mean ALL the feels. Anytime we challenge our belief systems, inner conflicts will come up. How we choose to respond to our inner conflict will build our character. To get into the depths of our humanity, we must allow ourselves to feel. We must sit with the discomfort as we battle against our deeply held belief systems and arm ourselves with new information to guide us through it. Racism is not an easy conversation to have, it sure as heck is not easy to dismantle something that has been held up for so long. It is NOT easy, and we are use to having it easy.
On a grander scale, doing anti-racism work is like bridging the divides within humanity, yes humanity. By learning others' truths, amplifying BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) voices, and putting it all on the line for what I know matters, life matters. By creating and holding space for others, other voices to be heard. By creating and holding space for others' lives, lives other than our own. What I wasn't expecting is how this work has translated into other areas, such as feminism, ableism, and LGBTQ, to name a few. It is also closely related to inner bias work, which is where some people I have talked to prefer to speak from. If that is an easier way for you to approach this work, by all means take it.
If you have children, do it so they have the opportunity to live in a more harmonious world. If you have BIPOC friends and family members, do it so they can feel safer in their day to day. If you believe love and light is the answer, do it so you can create more love and light in the world. I can't say there is one 'right' way (or reason) to do the work, and each journey will be unique to the individual. Do your best and keep going.
I am starting to find the balance between 'playing in my own lane' and doing the work. My work does not look like the leaders I have been learning from, I walk a very different path.
FINDING MY LANE
I have learned that I am not a social justice warrior, I am not an anti-racism teacher, and I am no-ones hero or saviour. Who I am is a human that believes in equality at the very depths of my core. This is where I continue to learn and share from, this is who I am and who I choose to be.
I love to learn, and I want to share what I learn in hopes of planting a seed or two. My clients are primarily white women, who are quite self aware and very intelligent. I am speaking primarily to these white women with this post, whether I have worked with you or not. I know you want to be a better person and do better in the world, I know you want a better world for all of us to live in. I know you value life and other people. Anti-racism work, although difficult at times, is one really big way that you can make the world a better place. Trust me when I say it is worth the time, effort and discomfort.
I see how there is racism as a social construct and systemic racism as a separate thing altogether. I believe there is a difference between being racist and having (oftentimes unknown) racist thoughts and behaviours. I see how #BlackLivesMatter has meaning beyond our white skinned comprehension. Black people are losing their lives every day for reasons that are unjust, for reasons created from and built into the system of white supremacy, the system we are benefiting from with zero effort whatsoever. What am I to do about it, when I know that sitting back and staying quiet does fuck all? I can speak up when something someone says doesn't sit right. I can create space for and listen to BIPOC. I can show support and help amplify voices of BIPOC.
I would like to share with you the numerous benefits I have found in doing this work. My relational CONNECTIONS have become stronger, my capacity for EMPATHY has grown tremendously, COURAGE is now a thing that I actually possess, my INTEGRITY is no longer a question mark, and my HUMANITY has been found. I'm keeping this short cause this is the kind of thing that is easy for me to write and easy for you to read, and as I said, this work is not easy.
The other benefits relate to my business and that is what has me sharing this here instead of staying quiet, apathetic and complacent. I pointed to it at the beginning of this post. This work has filled a missing gap, a missing piece of the puzzle that is foundational to running this business in the way that I have only dreamed previously. Anti-racism work has become a foundational piece to building this business, in a world that would prefer to ignore it in exchange for profits. I don't work that way, so my business can't either. Fashion your Life is an alternative in so many ways, and it is led by the feminine. It will take longer to build, and I am OK with that.
Given that several people in my life are spiritual in some way, myself included, I'd like to touch upon spiritual by-passing. This may be the most troublesome behaviour that I see in my day to day, and in myself. Throughout my life I have found myself floating between being spiritual and being grounded, which entails a constant stream of questioning. I'm in this constant push and pull, wax and waning, a very human experience. So what the heck does this have to do with spiritual by-passing? I see how being 'too grounded' can have a detriment on my constitution, mostly when I am not careful and fail to tend to my spirits' well being. I also see how being 'too spirited' can afford me to float away into the clouds, never to deal with life's issues. But at what cost? It has certainly played a role in the history of racism, providing us with an off ramp of excuses so we can feel good about something we know deep down inside is unjust. I see you using your spiritual by-passing and I will call you out, please call me out too. We need to go deeper to effect change.
For there to be love and light, hate and darkness must exist. To ignore is to avoid, and to avoid is to be complacent. One must start within one self.
Seeing how systemic white supremacy is, I see the opportunity to build this business in a way that contributes to the new and ever-evolving landscape of business, through service and commerce. Especially as it relates to the fashion and retail industries, where habits of appropriation and exclusivity run rampant. While I have been a willing participant within this system for years, something has always felt off. Thanx to starting my own anti-racism work, I now have a strong foundational aspect to build upon. Do I know how, not exactly. Will I make mistakes, yes. At least I have some great resources as starting points, and friends who are in the conversation with me.
1) I vow to build a business that is a safe space for BIPOC. I will treat BIPOC with compassion and respect, as I would any other person. I will create space for them, listen to them, and share their voices. I will hire and pay BIPOC to help build this foundational aspect of Fashion Your Life.
2) I will continue to lay down my weapons of whiteness. Some of the most commonly used weapons of whiteness are: white centering, white fragility, and white silence. I will step aside and create space for BIPOC, I will process things with my fellow white women (you), and I will speak up for injustices and validate the pain that BIPOC feel everyday.
3) I will amplify and shine a light on those whose voices need to be heard, namely BIPOC leaders, teachers and business owners. I will continue to share information and educational resources for others to do their own anti-racism work.
4) I will call out racism when I see it in my own daily life, I will put a name to it and engage in the conversation with my fellow white people.
5) I will create a physical representation of my on-going commitments and put it up in my physical space as a reminder to myself and for others in my life to see.
It is in bringing, growing and cultivating spirit within our own communities that we can affect change. Bringing spirit to humanity at the ground level, facing the realities of where we live. Having the conversations face to face, with fellow white people that we know, people we talk to everyday. Not being afraid to use words any fellow human can relate to. Not allowing certain things to fly, speaking up instead of being silent, speaking up when faced full fledged with fear. Trying our voices on for size. Asking questions, the questions we hear inside our heads but fear what will happen if we say them out loud. Ask those questions, out loud.
This also looks like holding and creating space for BIPOC, allowing them to speak instead of speaking for them or over them. Stopping ourselves when we feel the urge to speak for someone else, thinking we know better, we don't. Sit in that discomfort, look inside and dig deep for something new, consider it an impetus for change.
The Dalai Lama has been widely quoted as saying 'The world will be saved by the western woman'. While I have noticed that some people have started to give up on this idea, I believe this is just beginning to show up. I see our current times as the beginning of a new era, a type of leadership that we rarely see, feminine leadership. In order to have women's voices be on par, be on stage, to have women seen, heard and valued equally; we as women need to be on par, be on stage and see, hear and value each other, equally. Equally meaning that I see you as I see myself, and I see myself as I see you. We are not alone on this, we need to speak up, join forces and do the work. Our men need to step back and give us the stage, the same way we need to give the stage to BIPOC. If that doesn't seem fair, think again.
One thing is for sure, with 7.6B people in the world, whose voices are amplified on multiple social media platforms, finding our own voice in it all can be, daunting. We are taught to obey, we learn to follow, and we are told there will be repercussions if we choose to deter from the path most followed. We are rewarded for our behaviour, for 'being good' and for doing 'just enough'. This is (part of) how the system works. It keeps us in our places, it keeps us where others want us to stay, it keeps us from questioning too much. It keeps us quiet, obedient, submissive. It keeps us complacent.
If equality is truly something you wish to see in this lifetime, dismantling the system is a requirement. It may start with anti-racism work, as it has for me, or it may start with something else. At some point it will require that you do your own anti-racism work. I can guarantee you that it will be discomforting, that's part of being human and having the history we have forged. The thing is, we need to keep going, we need to keep evolving and the only way to do that is to learn new things and challenge our own belief systems. There is no quick fix, there is no easy answer, and there is no one way above all. It starts with you, who you decide to be in this lifetime and the actions you choose to take in your life.
Amidst the many voices and the sea of doubts, anger and passivity, my voice is part of who I am and I have the capability to share it here. I write this post based on where I am at now, I fully acknowledge that learning and sharing are just the beginning of this journey. As I continue to find my path, the continued actions that I need to take will become more apparent as I step into my courage more and more each day. I have a sneaking suspicion they are likely to change my life in ways I could not anticipate.
I HIGHLY recommend that you take yourself on, it is truly life changing. Not only that but we NEED you and your voice. If you choose to do your own work, a great place to start is with learning about your position, and gaining context with where you stand in it all. I see this as a requirement to be able to speak up and take action in a way that instigates true and lasting change. To make it easier to start, here is a list of resources I have collected during these past several weeks, in alphabetical order.
LEARN FROM THE EXPERTS